Obama's Africa Legacy

By Stith, Charles R. | African Business, August-September 2015 | Go to article overview

Obama's Africa Legacy


Stith, Charles R., African Business


What did Obama ever do for Africa? Quite a lot actually, argues former US Ambassador to Tanzania Charles R. Stith.

With Barack Obama's recent whirlwind of activity around Africa, I'm reminded that it was almost eight years ago that Africans on the continent and in the diaspora waited with bated breadth for his presidency to begin and, hopefully, with it a new era in US-Africa relations.

When Obama was elected in 2008, the celebrations in Africa were as enthusiastic as those in America. For Africa, there was obvious pride that comes with seeing one of its sons elected to arguably the most powerful political post in the world. There was also the expectation that he might set new benchmarks of cooperation between the US and the continent.

At the time Obama was inaugurated, the US economy was suffering from the financial crisis and the US was fighting wars on two fronts. Under such circumstances, it was understandable that Africa was not at the top of the President's agenda. That said, Obama visited Ghana in 2009 and spoke of Africa's promise. Including his most recent trip, he will have visited the continent three times. The First Lady and his daughters have visited the continent as well. This attention, if nothing else, has contributed to changing the narrative about Africa's prospects and reputation as a place of extraordinary opportunities.

The past year, the Obama administration has been particularly focused on its Africa agenda. From the African Leaders Summit a year ago, to the Power Africa Initiative, to renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), to his swansong trip to Kenya and Ethiopia, Obama has kept the US on track in its effort to engage Africa as a partner rather than patron.

The African Leader's Summit in August 2014 was historic. With similar summits having been hosted by China, India, and Europe, the Summit was meant to keep the US competitive on the continent. By all accounts, it achieved that aim.

The summit was not simply good politics; it provided an opportunity for the President to push US economic interests. During the event, Obama raised the prominence of his Power Africa initiative. Since last year's announcement, US companies have closed more than $20bn in deals. US companies like GE have stepped up in major ways.

In July, I attended an event at the White House celebrating the renewal of AGOA. Since the Bill's initial passage during the Clinton administration, there have been debates about the extent to which it has helped increase African exports to the US. What is not debatable is that the amount of trade between Africa and US has increased since the bill was enacted. As Africa becomes more competitive, AGOA is an important weapon in the US arsenal to keep it in the game. China has become increasingly engaged, as has Europe. Given the increased competition, if AGOA were to have lapsed it would have been the wrong message at the wrong time. …

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